Raúl Zurita

Acclaimed Chilean Poet

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  • An Evening with Raúl Zurita

Biography

“Zurita’s sequence of poems—and they must be read as a sequence—creates as it explores a geography of earth, body, and soul, a syntax of pain and topology, an imagery of flesh and land painfully entwined, ultimately freed…. This is ground-breaking, mind-breaking, bone-breaking style; the miracle is that Zurita heals all by the end, wringing triumph out of anguish.” —Ronald Christ, president of PEN Mexico

“Chile’s tragic recent history provides the fire in which this…poet’s Dantean visions have been forged. The poetry that emerges is by turns cold, molten, scathing, and ultimately liberating—a remarkable thing.” —John Ashbery

“More than anything, Zurita emits warmth. As if there were honeysuckle under his skin.” —Jacket Magazine

Raúl Zurita, winner of the Chilean National Poetry Prize, is arguably the most powerful poetic voice in Latin America today. His compelling rhythms combine epic and lyric tones, public and intimate themes, grief and joy. Despite having been arrested and tortured under the Pinochet dictatorship, Zurita’s prevailing attitude in his Dantesque trilogy, Purgatoi (Purgatory)Anteparaí­so (Anteparadise), and La Vida Nueva (The New Life), is a deep love for everything and everybody in the world. His work is part of a revolution in poetic language that began in the 1970s and sought to find new forms of expression, radically different from those of Pablo Neruda. The challenge was to confront the contemporary epoch, with its particular forms of violence, including violence done to language.

His book, INRI (Marick Press, 2009, translated by William Rowe), is distinctive in that it does not speak out of individual sorrow—though this is not missing—but seeks, rather, a new space, out of which love might be asserted as prime human reality, a space which might give birth to a different type of society. Purgatory, translated by Anna Deeny, was published by The University of California Press. Song for the Disappeared Love (2010) and The Country of Planks (2015), both translated by Daniel Borzutzky, are released by Action Books. Zurita’s other poetry collections include: El Paraí­so Esta Vací­oCanto a Su Amor, Desaparecido, El Amor de Chile, Los Paí­ses muertos, In Memoriam, and Las Ciudades de Agua. He has just completed a book that includes “Inscriptions Facing the Sea,” a project to inscribe 22 phrases in the cliffs of the north coast of Chile that would only be read from the sea.

Raul Zurita was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1950. He started out studying engineering before turning to poetry. His early work is a ferocious response to Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 military coup. Like many other Chileans, Zurita was arrested and tortured. When he was released, he helped to form the radical artistic group CADA; and he became renowned for his provocative and intensely physical public performances. He has written what are perhaps the most massively scaled poems ever created. He has done this with earth-moving equipment and with smoke-trailing aircraft. In the early 1980s, Zurita famously sky-wrote passages from his poem, “The New Life,” over New York and later—still during the reign of Pinochet—he bulldozed the phrase “Ni Pena Ni Miedo”(“Without Pain Or Fear”) into the Atacama Desert which, for its length, can only be seen from the sky.

An article in Jacket Magazine elucidates, “He says that in those days of brutality and distrust and terror…he began to imagine writing poems in the sky, on the faces of cliffs, in the desert…. He started to imagine that he might fight sadistic force with poems as insubstantial as contrails in the air over a city.” Zurita’s renowned poetic trilogy, composed over a span of 15 years, is considered one of the singular poetic achievements in Latin American poetry: Purgatory appeared in 1979, Anteparadise in 1982, and The New Life in 1993.

Zurita is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Casa de las Americas Prize from Cuba, and the National Poetry Prize of Chile. His work has been translated into a dozen languages.

Short Bio

Raúl Zurita, winner of the Chilean National Poetry Prize, is the author of the renowned poetic trilogy Purgatory, Anteparadise, and The New Life, considered one of the singular poetic achievements in Latin American poetry. His other publications include the book INRI (translated by William Rowe), Song for His Disappeared Love (translated by Daniel Borzutzky), and the poetry collections El Paraí­so Esta Vací­o, Canto a Su Amor, Desaparecido, El Amor de Chile, Los Paí­ses muertos, In Memoriam, and Las Ciudades de Agua. He has just completed a book that includes “Inscriptions Facing the Sea,” a project to inscribe 22 phrases in the cliffs of the north coast of Chile that would only be read from the sea. Zurita is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Casa de las Americas Prize from Cuba, and the National Poetry Prize of Chile. His work has been translated into a dozen languages.

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